Disaster-responder EMT, police, fire, MRC and other personnel are essential in the work of protecting, saving, and promoting the health and lives of people in crises. However, they are a high-risk group for burnout and compassion fatigue.
In 2012, UMN providers and researchers from the School of Public Health, Academic Health Center (Office of Emergency Preparedness), and Department of Family Social Science partnered with colleagues at the Minnesota Department of Health to develop an innovative self-care app for emergency responders in the field. In 2018, they then worked closely with colleagues from police, fire, EMT and MRC organizations to improve its usability. In early 2020, they again refined the app as a simplified in-the-field tool for first responders engaged in responding to the COVID-19 epidemic.
The First Responder Toolkit app is available for free to first responders throughout the U.S. and has been downloaded in all 50 states. The app aids those deployed to emergency response events in maintaining their own physical, emotional and social wellbeing. It provides checklists for before, during and after deployments to help responders attend to daily needs, maintain important relationships, reflect on experiences and more.
Moving forward, the team will further develop the toolkit to include enhanced features that fit individual user needs. The app will also, with users’ consent, collect anonymous data to help researchers better understand the extent and impact of mental health and wellness issues in their fields, and to discover and advance better ways to address these issues.
Emergency event responders have among the world’s most important jobs, but also some of the most taxing. Preventing, mitigating and promoting recovery from compassion fatigue is essential for the health and wellbeing of first responders, and for the people they serve. Compassion fatigue can lead to greater risks of missing important cues or questions, working ineffectively in teams, conducting poor documentation, and making medical errors. The simple design of the First Responder Toolkit provides highly stressed responders with an efficient way to consider their personal wellbeing at the present moment and then monitor it.